“I’m glad it did not make me vomit when I listened to it.”
Nathan Followill is reflecting on the year-long wait to release Kings of Leon’s eighth studio album When You See Yourself, out March 5, and how the band circumvented their natural instincts to completely overhaul the album after sitting on it for so long during a recent interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music.
The band’s first release since 2016’s Walls, now the Followills seem more relieved that the album is finally on its way out, following its delay around the onset of the pandemic.
“It’s been a long wait sitting on this music, and it’s always difficult knowing that you have something that you’re really excited for everyone to get to hear, and then being told you have to sit on it for a minute was tough,” says Nathan Followill. “But it also gave us a chance to live with it for a little while, and it’s still just as fresh today as it was on the first listen.”
Some band members chose not to listen to it for fear of wanting to make changes to songs, lyrics, or completely scrap the album.
“I was worried that I was going to want to change things, but when I did finally listen to it, I was very pleased,” says Caleb Followill. “If we did want to change something, we could have gone back and done it, but I think we had put in the work and it was the album that we wanted to put out.”
Throughout the recording of When You See Yourself, produced by Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Coldplay, Mumford & Sons), who also worked on Walls, all the innate concerns of how it would be perceived went out the window, and everything centered around the band making an album they would enjoy. “It was super important for us to feel like we made an album that we liked… and trying not to think about anything else,” says Matthew Followill. “We didn’t even think about radio or anything like that.”
Most of the 11 tracks averaging four and a half minutes, says Caleb, which doesn’t make it the most radio-friendly record by Kings of Leon. “It was just more like play the song while it feels good, and when it’s time to end the song, we end the song,” says Caleb.
The band was also on the same page, sound-wise and with tracks, for the first time in nearly 20 years from the moment they stepped into Nashville’s Neon Leon studio for pre-production.
“This was definitely the most on the same page that we had all been on going into a project,” says Nathan. “In the past, Jared and Matt were like the younger voices that would bring cool type music that me and Caleb might not be listening to, so there were times when we were kind of in different directions… There was this just natural vacuum, and that makes it so much easier when you’re not feeling like you’re having to swim upstream to get a song as a group.”
Pulling a piece from the end of one of the album’s songs, the band landed on When You See Yourself as the title—and it stuck. At first, the words didn’t resonate with Caleb, who remembers writing them down and singing them.
“After all of this, that we’ve all gone through together, you really do have to take a hard look at yourself, and see exactly who you are and how you can handle situations, and how you can be a part of the solution and be a part of something,” says Caleb. “I think I relate to it a little more than when I actually wrote the words down on paper, but the guys, they were the ones that had to fill in, ‘This means something more than what you just said.’”
The connecting for the band was in realizing that as you get older there’s so much that is out of your control, you begin questioning your place in the world.
“It’s just kind of trying to connect with yourself and ask yourself, ‘What do you see when you see yourself?’” says Jared. “Sometimes you’re way harder on yourself than anybody else would be, and it’s just a good question to ask yourself… It really kind of just stuck with me and it kind of just grew from that—and it kind of shaped the vision of the whole album from that point on.”
For Kings of Leon, every album since 2003 debut Youth and Song Manhood has been a musical reflection of their growth.
“We were discovering new music and new things and we were growing as men,” says Caleb of the band’s journey together. “And so every experience we had, we’d come home and we’d just put it into music. And when you’re doing that, you look up and it’s like, ‘wow, we’ve made five albums in seven years,’ and it didn’t feel like that. It just felt like we were living our dream and something that we never thought would actually come true was coming true and just kept feeding the fire.”
Proud of When You See Yourself in its entirety, one song, “A Wave,” continues to echo for the band an is admittedly their favorite track.
“I love ‘A Wave,’ and I think it’s just because we worked so long and so hard on it that if I didn’t say that, I would probably jump off a bridge or something, because I felt like we honestly worked on that song for about eight months, and it changed so many times,” says Jared. “I’m just proud of where it ended up, but I really like all of it.”
Working through its lyrics, Caleb remembers the band struggling to figure it out, and recording it several different ways. In the end, everything came back to the lyrics and lines, he says, because there was something pure about the song.
“When we finally got it right, all of us were just like, ‘The nightmare is over,’” says Caleb. “We found a way to put it on the album, and we’re all very proud of it. It’s one of my proudest moments on the album.”